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Education, offensive mascots among topics at Denver meeting

The Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs held its last quarterly meeting of the year in Denver on Friday, Dec. 18. Representatives from multiple state agencies and council members the two Ute tribes were in attendance.
Photo Credit: Sacha Smith | The Southern Ute Drum

Leaders of the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes met with state officials on Friday, Dec. 18 to share updates on current affairs.

The quarterly meeting of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) was held at the History Colorado Center in Denver. Southern Ute Chairman Clement J. Frost focused much of his report on the youth and education.

“I think the biggest thing is the lack of parent involvement,” Frost said, mentioning that only four parents showed up to this year’s Indian Policies and Procedures meeting held in Ignacio. “It’s really important to me, that the parents get involved.”

Frost commended the Ute Mountain Ute youth on the film they created titled “Escape” which focuses on the struggles Native American youth are going through – the film also won Best Student Film at the 2015 LA Skins Fest.

“It’s hard for the kids today, they are being bullied … it’s within our own communities,” Frost said. “They need our support, leadership needs to be involved with our students.”

Council Lady Amy J. Barry shared her concerns with education and  standardized testing.

“The tribe has been working with the local superintendent to address standardized testing concerns,” she said.

Barry said the Southern Ute Education Department and the local school district are also documenting and drafting letters of concern.

She also updated the commission on finalizing the youth component of CCIA. In the near future there will be Native youth representatives that will sit on the commission – including youth from Ute Mountain and Southern Ute tribes.

Another focus of the December 18 meeting was an update from the subcommittee formed to discuss the potentially offensive use of Native mascots in Colorado schools.

The committee hosts public meetings with the communities that have schools with offensive mascots or names and aims to help educate them on Native American culture.

“This is the first time a Native American group has gone down to these schools,” CCIA Executive Director, Ernest House Jr. said.

The committee has already visited their first school, the Strasburg High School Indians – a 45-minute drive east of Denver.

Ute Mountain Ute Vice Chairwoman Juanita Plenty Holes, who sits on the committee, said that the Strasburg community had already reached out to the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes about the mascot and name, but were very open to discussion.

“[Strasburg community members] felt they were honoring the Indians,” Plenty Holes said.

She went on to say that at times it is difficult since it is only a short-term committee, but she looks forward to visiting the other schools around the state.

A long time member of the CCIA, Lucille Echohawk of the Pawnee Nation, also sits on the mascot committee and shared the experience she had at Strasburg.

“Strasburg did not disappoint,” she said. “They were very strong willed and open minded.”

Echohawk said she discussed the sacredness of the eagle feather with community members and explained why having an eagle feather on the gym floor as part of the Indian caricature can be seen as offensive.

Though Council Lady Barry was unable to make it to Strasburg, she plans to visit the rest of the schools as a committee member; she shared some of her thoughts on offensive mascots.

Barry said that there is an educational component to why mascots aren’t being perceived as offensive and that what is being taught in Colorado schools about the history of Native Americans may be apart of that.

“We have to revisit the curriculum to make sure it is true and correct. If it is incorrect, is it their fault?”

Ute Mountain Ute Chairman Manuel Heart thanked Governor Hickenlooper for forming the committee and reminded members to make recommendations that honor Native Americans and to continue educating the communities they visit.

After visiting the various schools the committee will provide recommendations to the Colorado Legislature in March.

The next schools the committee is set to visit are: the Loveland Indians, La Veta Redskins, Lamar Savages, and the Eaton Reds.

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